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Believing that Healing from Sexual Assault is Possible - Chat Transcript

The Pandora's Aquarium chat room welcomed Rachel Grant October 24, 2011. Rachel holds a master's degree in counseling and works with survivors of trauma, and she spoke to members on the topic of "Believing that healing is possible". You can visit Rachel's website at: http://rachelgrantcoaching.com/

Hales: Hello everyone and thank you for coming along to this guest speaker chat this evening! Tonight we have Rachel Grant here to speak with us around believing that healing is possible. Please feel free to submit questions during this chat and we will come to this during the latter half of this chat :) So over to you Rachel - would you like to introduce yourself to the group?

Sure thanks Hales! Hi all, I’m so excited to be here with you today to explore one of the first steps in healing - believing that it’s even possible.

For the past five years, as a Trauma Recovery and Relationship Coach/Counselor, I’ve taken clients through my program - Beyond Surviving - to help them identify and challenge the patterns of thought and behavior that result from sexual abuse.

The journey is different for everyone - but we always start by exploring how loud their inner critic or doubter is and what’s getting in the way of them believing that they can heal. So, I know y’all have lots of questions. Let’s get started! Hales do you have the first question?

Question: Do you believe that healing is possible?

CoachRachelG: I absolutely believe that healing is possible, and not just because of the great changes I see in my clients - but because I’ve personally walked the road of recovery. As I see it, there are three stages of recovery. The first - is that of being a victim. This is when you’re either still being abused or you’ve not yet done any of the work of recovery.

The next stage is that of being a survivor - this is a critical stage where you begin acknowledging that you were abused, begin talking about what happened, draw connections between the abuse and your current mental/emotional state, and begin healing by exploring the past.

The final stage, what I call Beyond Surviving - is when you reach a point in your journey when you are no longer satisfied to just survive your life but are really ready to live it! I came up with that name because that’s exactly how I felt. I was being told over and over again that I’d always have to deal with the effects of the abuse - and that just wasn’t okay with me! So, I set out to find what needed to happen in order to really reach a place where I would no longer have to be constantly managing the thoughts, feelings, hurts, anger that were there as a result of the abuse I experienced.

Question: Does the healing process ever end?

CoachRachelG: The thing is we are not healing from the abuse exactly. Rather, we are healing from the false beliefs that were created by the abuse - for example, I’m worthless, I can’t trust anyone, Sex is bad/dangerous.

For each of us, we have some false beliefs in common and some that are uniquely ours. Healing is really about challenging these false beliefs - stripping each one away - so that, bit by bit, you reach a place where you are no longer feeling daily bombarded with these thoughts.

Now, because of the way our brains work, we can never completely erase these false beliefs - but we can drastically decrease how often that happens and more importantly learn some great strategies for dealing with things when we are triggered. In this way, the healing process never ends - but the feeling of constantly being on guard, managing thoughts/behaviors does.

Question: How do you overcome the fear of the healing process in order to go through it?

CoachRachelG: Let me get a little clarification here - let’s identify what the exact fear is. Is it the fear that it will be too painful to explore? The fear that, if you heal, you won’t really know how to do life since for so long you’ve been operating out of the effects of the abuse? Or something else?

Hales: would any of you like to identify what your fear is re: healing?

-> I have all of those fears
Member2 -> If I can interject for me it’s the first one...
Member3 -> it’s all of them
Member4 -> the fear of it being too painful
Member5 -> for me, too painful
Member6 -> not knowing what to do without it
Member7-> Painful.
Member8-> fear of changing thought patterns
Member9 -> being afraid of being "hurt" again
Member10 -> being too painful
Member11 -> most of them for me

CoachRachelG: Okay, let's start with the first fear - too painful, ability to handle what might happen ... often times we think of this as anxiety.

The thing is, anxiety is really about not believing that we will be able to cope with what comes our way.

So, let's do a little exercise... for the participants, just answer in your head and I'll model it here (since, I too, had to get over this fear)

Start by asking yourself what feeling you're most afraid of experiencing ..."I afraid if I begin healing, I'll become so angry that I won't be able to handle it." Next, consider what you might do if you become angry. “If I get angry, I might scream at the top of my lungs, I might throw things, I might just lose it for a bit." Then consider what you'd do next..."Well, I suppose after experiencing that type of anger, I'd be pretty worn out - so I might pass out!"

Then what?

"I'd wake up and have to clean up the mess I made." and so on... The idea here is that we can address our fears and anxiety by taking ourselves into the future and asking "What would I do then/next?"
As you do this, your fear and anxiety decrease and you can get into action. Is that making sense to folks?

Hales: Based on members' responses, I’d say that’s making sense.

Question: How would a person know they have healed?

CoachRachelG: I wish there was an x-ray for abuse out there that we could have done to show, yep, you’re all healed up - like we do for broken bones. Since we don’t, one of the great questions to ask you is, “What would life look like for me if I was healed?” - This will help you to begin to pinpoint specific areas of change and growth that you can work on. For example, I’d no longer go into rages; I’d be developing friendships rather than isolating myself, etc. I also have a little checklist that I share with clients:

I am willing to face the abuse and acknowledge the hurt and the pain. I understand that the abuse was a violation. I have an increased awareness of my value and worth. I can list significant others I can trust. I can share thoughts and feelings about the abuse with others if I choose to do so. I recognize relationship tendencies that avoid honesty and intimacy. I am overcoming feelings of shame and guilt. I recognize that I was a victim.

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list - but it does touch on some of the major areas where abuse survivors tend to need to experience in order to heal.

I'd love to hear from the participants what they've done so part as a part of their healing/recovery

Member1 -> disclosed
Member2 -> I’ve surrounded my mirror with post it notes, of inspirational quotes, to look at when i am feeling down
Member3 -> i find it helpful to journal everyday
Member4 -> talking to a therapist
Member5 -> confronted abusers
Member6 -> I actually made a little scrap book similar to what your list is about how life would look when I was healed
Member7 -> I've admitted to myself that it has happened to me
Member8 -> I talked to T's and write in my diary
Member8 -> I’ve really just started my healing journey but the biggest thing ive done already is utilizing this site
Member9 -> yes, disclosing to close friends, a tiny little bit at a time, was a HUGE deal for me.
Member10 -> Art Therapy on my own and with others has helped me.
Member11 -> 2 years of EMDR and love addiction recovery work through a 12 step program
Member12 -> journaling has been a great help and reading books
Member13 -> EMDR, art therapy, and a lot of soul searching.

Hales: Thanks everyone for your input, it’s always helpful to see what others use to aid them in their healing.

CoachRachelG: That's awesome everyone! I hope what you're noticing is that the road to recovery can be started from many different places and pass through many different areas/approaches. The one key underlying thing that makes a huge difference in what you get out of any of these approaches, is how grounded you feeling in believing you can heal at all.

Question: What do I do when healing feels impossible? It feels like what happened to me is too "bad" to get over. How do I let go of that feeling?

CoachRachelG: I want to encourage you to reframe what it is you have to “get over.” Right now, my guess is that you are trying to heal the abuse as a whole experience. That’s like trying to eat a whole hog at once! When you think of the abuse as a whole, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed, disheartened, aggravated.

So, let’s focus on just one thing that happened to you - one moment - and the thought or idea that was created in that moment. This is also a great strategy when you begin to think that healing is impossible. Just hone in on one thing, one thought you’d like to challenge - and take that on.

When I did this work, I had a whole list of problems - rage, refusing to be vulnerable, difficulty connecting sexually - plus thoughts like I’m worthless, I’m an object to be used. I felt overwhelmed, too! Yet, by focusing on just one thing (I started with rage) - getting that under control and then moving on to the next thing that felt the most pressing - I was able to wind my way through these various areas of life.

Would anyone like to share one area that they'd like to focus on in their recover - to take a bite size bit out of the whole so to speak?

-> how does one deal with body memories?
Member2 -> feeling worthless
Member3 -> sex/intimacy
Member4 -> trusting my own feelings
Member5 -> the shame that I didn't say anything
Member6 -> my shame is a big piece
Member7 -> learning to make my life worth living
Member8 -> being able to let a guy friend hug me and not freak out
Member9 -> I just want to feel like life isn’t against me. Feeling worthless/useless
Member10 -> shame
Member11-> feeling weak and easily manipulated

CoachRachelG: Thanks you everyone - that's very honest. Now, as you think about the one area you want to focus on, think about one thing you want to do differently to start moving towards that. Now you've focused in on not only one area, but one thing you can do (e.g. @Member8 : aim for one hug a week; @Member3 : pick one thing around sex/intimacy that you'd like to try on this month)...

I hope that, as you hone in on one piece, you begin to feel less overwhelmed and instead think, hey, alright... I can do this one thing. Ultimately, recovery is about a bunch of those "one things" all coming together.

Question: Sometimes it feels like I take one step forward and two steps back in my healing. How can I avoid getting discouraged by that?

CoachRachelG: Yeah, that’s a frustrating feeling. You’ll have days when you’re feeling like you’ve got it together, had a breakthrough, made it to the other side - and then, wham, you’re right back into a thought, feeling, or behavior that you thought you’d put to rest. Been there done that!

One of the best ways to avoid being discouraged is to really keep track of what you’re up to in a tangible way. Can someone give me an example of an area that they are doing some work around - a very specific thing they are working on transforming?

Member1-> si
Member2 -> insomnia
Member3 -> nightmares
Member4 -> making friends
Member5 -> ed
Member6 -> body memories
Member7 -> trust
Member8 -> telling my family
Member9 ->putting responsibility and blame where it goes.
Member10 -> learning it is not ok to be used...healthy relationships

CoachRachelG: Okay, now, consider a goal that you might set around any of these areas you want to transform. For example, to only si once a week. Even for things like "healthy relationship" - consider what the behaviors are that lead you towards this goal (e.g. stop dating the broke guy/gal at the end of the bar with a mullet) :)

So now, let's say you've set a goal for yourself - but have you determined a way - a very real and tangible way that you'll track it? We’re funny creatures that way - if we don’t keep track of how we are doing - one bad day will discount the 30 good days that came before it - and we end up focusing only on that and falling into discouragement.

I want to encourage each of you to pick one area that you're wanting to experience some change in; identify one specific goal (e.g. I will only si 1x/week); and then figure out a way to track it. As you do this, when you take that step back, you'll have a calendar, a spreadsheet, a poster board that reminds you of the 30 steps you also took forward and you're outlook on where you are will transform.

Question: It feels like nothing ever works and I'm always shooting down suggestions made to me. Am I getting in my own way of healing?

CoachRachelG: Here’s the thing - there is no magic bullet when it comes to recovery. We all walk our road using a variety of resources, tools, therapists, coaches, books to keep us moving along. When we find ourselves thinking, “nothing ever works” - it’s often because we are hoping that just one thing will do the trick.

Even my program is sometimes not the final step in a person’s recovery - but is, importantly, a step. So, I’m wondering what becomes possible when we begin to notice that the journey of recovery is made up of all of the things we do - each little bit we take away from a book, a counseling session, a group, an online chat - is a deposit we make in our recovery bank. Maybe you only take away one sentence from this whole hour - but that idea next to the other ones you’ve already got compounds the power of both.

I'm wondering how you might feel if you thought about the pieces you've gained from every step you've taken so far? Surely, you are a bit further along today than you were yesterday? As far as getting in your own way of healing - well, that’s a little harder to address without knowing a bit more about exactly why you’re shooting down the suggestions! Care to share what you're up to?

Member1 -> trying to keep it together
Member2 ->: how do we know what things to put together? Books can contradict therapy etc

CoachRachelG: Good question...

-> I'm scared of not being scared. I know that doesn't make much sense...
Member5 -> I’m scared to heal because I already did it wrong once and now it’s worse

CoachRachelG: Recovery is like a jigsaw puzzle - but one where the pieces sometimes change!

Member6 -> I shoot down suggestions that seem steps away from where I am.
Member7 -> I’m trying to stay out of IP
Member8 ->: fear of not being free of this puzzle I’m stuck in
Member8 -> trying to be strong enough to care for my kids
Member9 -> I'm afraid that my anger will make me like "them"

CoachRachelG: The idea is to draw from the resources what fits you at the point in time when you need it. So, okay... Let me pause here and address the fear and hurt that's in the room right now...

I understand where y'all are coming from. Our behaviors and thoughts become like friends - familiar and there when we need them. To strip those away can feel like we're revealing the soft underbelly of ourselves but, let's take a minute to reflect...

If you don't address these behaviors, challenge these patterns of false beliefs about who you are, who others are... What outcome are you guaranteed?

Member1 -> insanity
Member1 -> fear, no changes in our lives
Member3 -> stuck
Member4 -> continuing to not live life to the fullest
Member5 -> no free life
Member6 -> loss of family
Member7 -> It's hard when those behaviors are something that I've done for so long. I don't want to make this giant leap, and then fail.
Member8 -> loss of friends
Member9 -> not feeling free to live our lives as we deserve too
Member10 -> not knowing what we could possibly achieve if we just gave it a go

CoachRachelG: That's right... And you can also ask the question in the positive: What are you guaranteed to miss out on?

Member 1 -> Being happy
Member2 -> happiness
Member3 -> my kids, my new life with my fiancé
Member4 -> happiness, fulfillment
Member5 ->: a future

CoachRachelG: As dependent as we are on these behaviors and as safe as they feel - they are keeping us from living powerful, authentic
lives. Experiencing real connection. Yes yes!

Member6 -> a happy family
Member7 -> a career...family

CoachRachelG: When your fear creeps up on you, just ask yourselves these two simple questions. Oftentimes, it will help move you past the fear by becoming present to what's guaranteed if you don't change and what will be lost.

Question: How do i get over the feeling that I don't deserve to heal? How do I move on from there?

CoachRachelG: Here's one simple thing I want you to try on - it's based in neuroscience and cognitive-behavioral therapy... Every morning, wake up, look at yourself in the mirror, and say, "I am deserving.” That's it...that's a start. We need to challenge these false beliefs - one you've identified is the "I don't deserve it." The first step is to start countering the idea with the one you want to have in place instead.

Question: I find that I compare my healing journey to that of others, how do I stop this?

CoachRachelG: Comparing our journey to that of others is kind of a human thing to do. However, doing so can really be detrimental if it’s used as a way to reinforce negative ideas about yourself like I’m not good enough, I’m incapable, If I weren’t so screwed up I could be where they are. This type of comparison keeps you in a loop of self-deprecation and away from transformation.

If you, however, compare your journey to that of another person as a way to gain knowledge, guidance, encouragement - well, that’s another thing altogether. When you compare where you are in relation to others in this way, you can gain inspiration or motivation to keep going. If you’re stuck in the former type of comparison, I’d love you to spend some time reflecting on what thoughts you have when you’re comparing. Then, focus on changing/transforming those thoughts - rather than on stopping the behavior of comparing. If you change the thinking - the change in behavior will just naturally follow.

One of things to understand about recovery is that addressing your behavior/action needs to follow addressing your thoughts. This, at least, is what I have found finally worked for me and for others. Beyond Surviving is all about taking the leap of faith to say, "Alright, I get that I'm this way because of the abuse, now I want to do something about it!" - And the place to begin is challenging the false beliefs you have about who you are.

CoachRachelG: So, it looks like we've come to the end of the chat, and I just want to thank every single one of you for being here. I'm always honored when people are willing to share themselves so openly! I hope that you've gained some support, encouragement, and a few take aways that you can begin using in your life!

Hales: Big thank you to Rachel - I think we have all found this very useful :)

If you'd like to contact me directly, you can go to www.rachelgrantcoaching.com to learn more about me and get my email. It's been my pleasure!!

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